Cultivating health

An Acts Matter essay

We can alleviate a hunger pain with a quick fix of highly processed food. But is the goal convenience or is it nourishment? As a parent and the director of Rogue Valley Farm to School, I know we can do better in the new year to cultivate lifelong habits that nourish personal and environmental health.

If you're not familiar with Farm to School, the heart of the movement is to get good, fresh food to students, create new markets for local farmers and provide educational opportunities in agriculture, health and nutrition. It is a grassroots movement that has spread across the country.

Rogue Valley Farm to School would like to ensure that kids have wholesome, nutritious, delicious food at school. As studies prove, children's intellectual and physical development depends on proper nutrition.

I could produce a long, detailed wish list for 2012, but a single wish-come-true could impact the entire list. While a large donation to RVF2S would be wonderful, a shift in federal policy would be our single wish. We ask that the barriers that make it difficult for schools to buy directly from local, small farms be reduced.

Establishing federal policies that include community food security initiatives within the 2012 Federal Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition Act would positively impact local farmers, school meals, local economies and the health of children.

Perhaps converse to conventional thought, poverty and obesity are linked. Over the years, the obesity rate has risen and the income gap has widened. Food is a social justice issue. Consequently, more children are eating subsidized meals from school kitchens.

Nationally, 17 percent of children are obese and 31 percent are overweight. These facts translate into expensive health concerns. Obesity is estimated to cost $147 billion annually. Today's children are expected to have more than a 30 percent chance of becoming diabetic and are expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

The status of the small farm is equally serious. Farming has the greatest decline of all occupations in this country. Less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is involved in farming and the age of the average American farmer is 57 years old.

What can you do?

As eaters, I would urge you to take the time to do more home cooking and patronize the farmers markets or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) so that you are buying produce directly from the producers.

As parents, I ask that you let your school administrations know you'd like your child to learn about nutrition, health and obesity and that school meals reflect what is taught.

As voters, I ask you to pay attention to the 2012 Farm Bill, land-use planning and legislation that impact school meals and farmers. And as community members, I ask you to learn more about RVF2S at

Farm to School Executive Director Tracy Harding moved to Southern Oregon in 2001 with her family and helped start the Ashland Saturday Growers Market in 2008. She was a program assistant for the Oregon State University Extension Small Farms Program and has served on the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center board since 2006.

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